EU fails to protect citizens from genetically modified corn

After 13 years, six scientific opinions and two legal challenges, an insect-resistant type of corn is on the verge of being approved by the European Union. It would be only the third genetically modified crop to be authorized for cultivation in the 28-nation bloc.
Despite clear and at times impassioned opposition from a majority of member countries, opponents of genetically modified crops failed on Tuesday to muster sufficient support to block the authorization under the European Union’s complex weighted voting system.
That left no legal alternative under European rules but to push ahead with the approval, according to Tonio Borg, the European health commissioner, who spoke to reporters after a meeting of ministers in Brussels. Formal approval requires one more step, the go-ahead of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, and Mr. Borg refused to give any timetable for that decision. He is pushing for a mechanism that would allow individual states to ban the growing of biotech crops, but would permit the sale of authorized products throughout the Union.
Developed jointly by DuPont Pioneer and Dow Chemical, the modified corn, or maize, called Pioneer 1507, is designed to improve yields by resisting pests and is used mostly for animal feed.
While the development and cultivation of biotech crops have been embraced by countries like the United States, India and China, Europeans tend to be highly suspicious. Last month, the European Parliament passed a resolution against the approval of Pioneer 1507, and during Tuesday’s debate, ministers from at least 18 nations spoke out against the authorization.
Critics disputed the European Commission’s claim that scientific opinions proved the corn was safe, and said that voters would not understand it if the authorization went ahead.
“I don’t know how we could leave this room and justify to the public the authorization of this G.M.O.,” said Thierry Repentin, the French minister for European affairs, referring to opinion polls showing opposition to genetically altered crops.
The one gene-altered crop that is being cultivated commercially in Europe: MON 810, a grain modified to protect against a pest known as the European corn borer. It was authorized in 1998 and is cultivated mainly in Spain, with smaller crops in Portugal, the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia.
In 2012, it represented only 1.35 percent of the 9.5 million hectares, or 23 million acres, of corn cultivated in the European Union, and 0.23 percent of the 55.1 million hectares of genetically modified corn cultivated worldwide, according to the European Commission.
In 2010, a genetically modified starch potato, known as Amflora, was authorized, but it is not now cultivated within the European Union and its approval was withdrawn after a legal ruling late last year.
Eight countries in the bloc, including Germany, Italy and Poland, have banned the cultivation of MON 810 on their lands. France also had a ban until last August, when it was annulled by the Conseil d’Etat, the nation’s highest court for administrative matters, and there is continuing political pressure in France to try to reinstate it.
Mr. Borg, the European health commissioner, wants to create a consensus by agreeing to new rules that would give member countries a clear legal right to decide individually whether to ban or restrict cultivation of products that win Europe-wide approval. That would not prevent the circulation of authorized crops within the European Union, however.
As well as controlling cultivation, Europe also regulates genetically modified products that enter its food chain. At present 49 GM products have been authorized for human food and animal feed including 27 types of corn, eight cottons, seven soybeans and three oilseed rapes.
The director of European Union agriculture policy for Greenpeace, Marco Contiero, said the debate on Tuesday highlighted the widespread opposition to gene-altered products. “If the commission hides behind procedural rules and authorizes this crop — despite the substantial opposition — then it is making a big mistake,” he said.

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